Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Log Drive, Round 2

As we laid logs and and worked on building up our cabin every day, it became apparent that we would need another log drive pretty soon. So we set a date with Duff, our friend over at S&S, and okayed it with the crew coaches, and we were set.

Today we got up early again to head up to the Organic Farm and get the first raft ready. Duff showed up at 10 AM, followed by Dan Nelson in the S&S boat. We had the first raft of nine logs ready to go, and the first tow went about as successfully as we could hope for.
Because we were making good time, we decided to do three tows, bringing 36 new logs to the island. The larger size of today's haul (compared with that of the last log drive) gives us more logs to choose from as we build up, and that will help a lot.

The log raft and tow boat, as seen from the Ledyard Bridge. Photo by Rory Gawler.

Now we've got our work cut out for us as we haul them all up to the island... we'll be gettin' huge.

Us after the next few days of hauling logs up to the island.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to use things that are not logs

We here at Titcomb Crew, Inc. believe in many things: building log cabins, floating trees, and compensating for our own lack of masculinity with long chainsaw bars. We also believe in equal opportunity for wood-based materials, which is why we recently ordered items such as 2x10s, 2x6s, 2x4s, and plywood. That is why we decided that, after towing our lumber to the island, we would give it the same opportunity to float in the water as we gave the logs. Jordan promptly sunk the skiffs we used for transport.

Discovery: plywood doesn't like water. Fortunately, a pair of visiting canoeists from the Boston metropolitan area decided to stop by and help us. One of them was a lovely '06, the other a lowly pilot of Cobra attack helicopters.

Why use plywood, when we have such lovely and beautiful logs in excess? Oh, you know, silly little things like floors. Let me tell you, I know how to put in a floor.

Step 1: hang joists.

Step 2: place plywood loosely on joists, then allow your friends to pretend to be useful to the project, only to be told later that what they are doing (staining logs) is actually decreasing the overall lifespan of the cabin.

Step 3: spelunking.

Step 4: admire the logginess of your cabin, then congratulate yourself on your equal opportunity carpentry.

Cause and Effect

As a result of said escapade I am still awake, with the NOS beginning to work it's way out of my system, which I suppose was slightly sensitive to the adrenaline like shot of caffeine.



Lesson learned. There will be coffee in the morning.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Tonight Lucas, Jordan, and I went on our weekly food run to Price Chopper in West Lebanon. As we were waiting in the checkout line, the cooler of NOS energy drinks caught Lucas's eye. Soon, the three of us found ourselves shotgunning the 16-ounce cans in the parking lot. As if things couldn't get worse, we then decided to wash the NOS down with chocolate milk. However, Jordan dropped the chocolate milk jug, splashing it all over us and tearing a hole in the bottom of the carton.
Things are worse than ever.

The aftermath.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kodiak's Weekly Musings

Due to Kodiak's allergy to blogging and preference towards the spoken word, it is easier for us to communicate his messages with the outside world. Without further ado, I bring to you the mind of the DaK (with translations provided by myself):

Our Newest Friend:
"Gratuitous." (Necessary.)

Our "Plumb" Drilling Method:
"I can't believe we got all six of them right on the first shot. We had no business getting any of those correct. Dat was schweet dude." (Precision is everything.)

Matt Knight and Duff Cummings Guiding Lumber down the River:
"DJ Postman is looking very stern in this picture, or should I say bow! Hahaha." (Hahaha.)

After a Small Accident Unloading the Lumber:
"Draining a boat 101: not like that. Guess there are weight limits for a reason." (As a side note, after Duff and DJ Postman carefully delivered our wood to the island, we promptly sunk both of the barges. Had to happen eventually.)

Kate's Food/Work-Induced Naptime:
"Notice the ear protection and lack of any apparent consciousness. Kate is one of the only people I know that can make a wheelbarrow look comfortable." (Some people just can't handle "mac and cheese hour.")

At the Week's End:
"We're getting better at this." (Only a bajillion more courses to go.)

Thanks DaK, and we look forward to hearing from you again soon!

Let's build a cabin!

A lot has happened on the island in the last week. We went from concrete footings sticking out of the ground to what's actually starting to look like a cabin. We started off by putting down our three half sill logs. Then we hit the full sill logs with the Alaska mill so we would have a nice flat surface to hang out floor from, and set those logs in place to complete the first course. Over the next few days, the crew worked hard to sink a couple of skiffs while bringing out the hemlock timbers we were going to use for our floor joists. With rough cut 2x12's placed every foot, this cabin is going to be able to handle one serious dance party before we have to worry about the floor giving out. By the end of the week, we had hung the floor, and completed the first few courses of the cabin walls. We finished off the work week around 6:30 on Saturday with a new first for us, a perfectly cut log on the first try. Now we just need to figure out how to repeat that...

The Alaska Mill

Friday, July 23, 2010


It turns out that the only thing more fun that floating logs down the river is hauling them up the 50-yard embankment to where they can be piled near our site. While the rest of the crew was off playing in the water, Lucas and I were blessed with this lovely task. We managed to get six logs up to the site ourselves, until help arrived later in the day and we were able to finish off the first full raft by the end of the day. Above is a picture of a sleek, peeled log as it's dragged up the first pitch of the ramp. Hauling logs up turns out to be an excellent full body workout, much like rowing, but with the additional challenge of stabilizing a fidgety grip-hoist. It took us the entirety of the next day to haul the rest of the logs up, which mainly involved grip-hoisting in pairs of twos while the rest of us got our wind back. We used our skyline (the taut steel cable that runs over over the cabin foot print) to grab logs from the top of the ramp and pile 'em up.

Below we can see the grip-hoist being worked at a feverish pace, while Lucas takes a photo break. Even further below there is evidence of the extremeness of the second day of hauling, as Max and I show how the only way to effectively work the grip-hoist and the skyline simultaneously.

It was really extreme.

Needless to say, this phase of the operation is not the most precise part of the building process.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Thursday, July 15th, might have been our most intense day yet. We set our alarms super-duper early and brewed a pot of coffee on Wednesday night in preparation. Even more, we actually intended on getting up early to work, a solid departure from our normal ritual. This was the day that we were to float the first batch of logs from the Organic Farm down to the work site on the island, and we needed to be ready by 10:30 AM, the time at which Duff, our towboat driver, was to come around.

Our goal for the morning was to have a the first raft of logs in the water, ready to be attached to Duff's boat, by the time he got there. Duff, who works in the Marine Safety section of the Safety and Security Office, generously volunteered to drive his own boat to tug the logs, leaving the official safety boat available if an emergency came up. His boat has a 200 horsepower motor, and goes very fast when it is not towing logs. We had already set up the logs in three groups, ordered by size (see the not-yet-written entry below about Bobcat day), and we needed to roll the first group into the water, attach them to our homemade triangular frame, and tie the rope from that onto Duff's boat.

Once again, we were surprisingly efficient and were ready for Duff. Kodiak, in a kayak, tied the rope off to Duff's boat and we were on our way. About 100 yards from the farm, however, disaster struck. The logs were attached to the tow rig with eyebolts and carabiners, but two of the carabiners somehow came unclipped. Kodiak, riding the safety boat (piloted by Brian Kunz and Dan Nelson of OPO fame), jumped in the water and did some quick rope magic to tie the logs back on, and everything made it down to the island in one piece. Lucas and Jordan raced to the island as soon as the raft left the farm, and were waiting for us there to catch the logs, tie the raft onto a tree on the island, and start hoisting them up.

View of the first log raft from the safety boat, with the Ledyard Bridge in the background.

Aside from that initial carabiner hang-up, everything went almost as well as it could have. We made some adjustments to the connections in the raft and distributed weight a little differently, so the second trip took much less time and was much easier on Duff's boat. All-in-all, a success. We learned a lot and will be able to do the next log drive very efficiently.

Altogether, this first log drive brought 17 logs to the island, all of which will hopefully be used within the next week or two. This was most likely the first log drive in the past few decades, which is pretty cool. Also, the Valley News was there to report and take pictures of us. We're also on the Dartmouth homepage right now, so we're pretty much famous.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day of the CAT!

Many days have passed since bobcat day, but for some reason (ahem Kodiak's writers block ahem) we were not able to share it with the world until now.

The mission of the day was to transfer all the logs from the runners in the middle of the field at the Organic Farm to the staging area whence we would launch the logs. Assisting us for the day was our friend the Bobcat. Named for the most feared hunter of the Northeast wilderness, the Bobcat S185 proved to be an amazing beast. First to climb inside was Lucas, who quickly began to showcase his heavy equipment driving skillz. Luckily, he was up at somewhere around 6 AM, like a kid on Christmas morning, mentally and physically preparing for the ferocious feline that lay ahead. The rest of us watched as he effortlessly shuffled into the pile and began to set up new runners at our staging area at the bank of the river. After he had gotten a good handle on things, he turned the cat over to the rest of us, and amateur hour began.

As we rotated through, all with huge grins and some with a vague idea of what we were doing, we slowly made progress moving the logs.

Then, as high noon struck, there was a disaster.

The log moving continued to move forward, but we suffered a casualty. The young Max "Mr. Badger" Friedman began to realize the full implications of the severely diminished hearing in his right ear. The symptoms had been growing on him for over 24 hours, but during his time with the cat things truly came to a head, and he was rushed to the ER. The doctors at first thought he may have to lose the ear, but eventually some sort of breakthrough was made with some rather advanced technology. Eventually after some deliberation it was decided that he has an unusually large buildup of earwax, and so he put in some ear drops and he was fine.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, we had a visit from Lauren "Duff" Cummings, who surveyed our setup for the log drive to come in several days. We continued to work through the pile, gaining skill and confidence as the day went on, which led to increased efficiency, as well as some interesting maneuvers, including Greg's wheelies, my failed attempts at carrying four logs at once, and Kodiak's alternative forklift bark raking technique for cleaning up the mess we left behind.

More to come soon, as we are now beginning the first phases of real log laying.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Concrete Day

Much of the work we've done so far will be invisible to the casual observer of the completed cabin - the permitting process and the hours we've put in practicing scribing are absolutely necessary, but don't really produce tangible results. The death slide, unfortunately, will probably be taken apart when we're done with it. Pouring the concrete foundation was particularly exciting because it was the first day we began work on something that will remain a part of the cabin. A quick step by step guide for pouring concrete foundations on an island.

1) Get the concrete to the island.

42 bags x 80 lbs each = 3,360 lbs of concrete mix canoed down the river and carried up a steep bank to the work site.

2) Get the sono tubes in the ground. Dig some huge holes.

Kodiak checking that the sono tubes are level and all at equal heights before pouring.

3) Get an electric cement mixer and a generator out to the island, also by canoe.

4) Redo your calculations. Go get 800 more lbs of concrete.

5) Mix concrete mix with water in the electric mixer, based on an extremely precise and scientific process known as "well that looks about right."

6) Shovel concrete into sono tubes. Sit and wait about six hours.

Lucas and Kodiak "pouring" (a.k.a. laboriously shoveling) concrete

7) Finis! A new foundation for a new cabin.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Death Slide

In preparation for next weeks log drive, after a morning at the O-Farm getting in a little more work on the practice cabin, we set to work building a slide to bring our logs up to the site from the water. In order to get the lumber down to the site, we rafted up a couple canoes into a "cargo catamaran" of sorts. Not the fastest way to get out to the island, but we had lunch along the way, and after arriving, got to work constructing the slide. As we scouted locations for the ramp with a suitable grade and tree spacing, Lucas discovered that rocks can be quite slick when wet, as he had a little "moistening accident" on the east side of the island. We ended up choosing a path right next to our usual landing site. Construction of the slide went quickly, and by the end of the day we had completed our ramp, which could successfully hold our weight even when suspended several feet off the ground.

Additionally, Gregory's percolating bowels (combined with our proficiency with impact drivers) led to the scene below. In case it inspires curiosity, he walked into the privy using the regular door, but some rapid construction forced him to seek other methods of exit. After several attempts at going through windows he became a little stuck, and we mercifully removed the screwed-in 2x4 and helped him down. He has promised revenge on all the responsible parties, but as of yet, no such revenge has been forthcoming.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Practice Makes Perfectish

For several days we were delayed because our final permission to begin building had not come in yet, leaving us time to work on what had become our practice cabin, next to the skids where the freshly peeled logs were being held at the Dartmouth Organic Farm. In hindsight, it was great that we had these several days of time on our hands in order to practice, as we ended up doing plenty of experimenting with different styles for our corner joints, and have finally settled on a building system that should prove the best combination of reliability, accuracy and aesthetics. Fueled by strange uncooked ramen noodle and peanut butter concoctions, we forged through several 100 degree afternoons and made a significant amount of progress towards the accuracy and look we are going to require when working on the real cabin. Three elements to our success can be clearly seen in the picture below. Roxanne (18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless FM/AM Job Site Makita Radio Model BMR100), our siren (lower left) consistently filled the air with her beautiful tubes. H20, seen bottom right, replenished the salty fluids that oozed from our flesh and fell to the ground throughout the site. And finally K8 aka "The Scribbler," was scribing up some beautiful logs for us. After we began churning out quality logs with some consistency, we decided our farm time was finished and we would look forward to constructing our log slide the following day.


Because both take just a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master.

(referring to the learning curve of chainsaws as similar to that of the classic board game Othello by Hasbro, which proclaimed that it took "a minute to learn and a lifetime to master".)

A great part of today was spent learning chainsaw safety and maintenance, and then the afternoon practicing a variety of cuts that will be necessary for the cabin building process. It was a decibellious day, featuring three different saws and five different people of various ages and sizes unleashing their beasts on a pile of wood from a couple of recently-felled trees. It was a sweaty and dusty and noisy and thoroughly enjoyable day. Plus, Max made a stool, which is awesome, but also too heavy and crooked to actually use. Looks rustic though.

Now that we are all certified to use the necessary weaponry, we can begin working on our practice cabin in earnest whilst our building permits fall into place.

Pictured above is our instructor Mr. Burke, scalloping a smooth saddle into one of the logs on our practice cabin. Guy is a pro.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

But a single night after we finished peeling all of the logs, rendering them sleek as otters, we returned to the island to prepare to dig our foundations. As it turned out there was still a great deal of work to be done burying the remains of Titcomb Cabin 1.0, which took the better part of the day. Several crater-sized holes were dug, and then filled with what used to be the chimney, hearth, and crumbling Sonotubes (the foundations of Titcomb 1.0). The work was not easy, but we made solid and noticeable progress towards something more like an actual construction site and less like a site of destruction. Kodiak took well-timed swings at the six-foot-deep slab of concrete at the center of the site with Bricktop (a 16-pound rubber-gripped, fiberglass-handled sledge hamma). Max and I dug caverns deep into the earth, Kate dug around the existing foundations and prepared to pour new ones, and Greg wheeled the "brickle-brackle" leftover from our destruction into the caverns. After we finished and leveled the site with the sand we had raised from the earth and placed the cardboard forms for the foundations in place, the site looked like the legitimate start to something legitimate. Up next: Chainsaws.